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Digital Futures of Polish Cinema Classics

The "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" film series was brought to the States through the partnership of Scorsese's Film Foundation with the Poland-based DI Factory, Digital Film Repository, and Propaganda Foundation. The series is distributed in the United States and Canada through the restoration and distribution company Milestone Film & Video. It premiered in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on February 5th, 2014, and then went on the road. By November 2014 this retrospective will have screened at over 30 theaters in North America. The series features renowned masterpieces by Andrzej Wajda, Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament 1958) and Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1977), which may be familiar to viewers. While the earlier film is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made, as Scorsese concurs, the latter is an iconic work that inaugurated the cinema of moral concern and presaged the Polish Solidarity Movement. In New York the series was introduced by the award-winning director Krzysztof Zanussi, whose films, The Illumination (Iluminacja, 1972), Camouflage (Barwy ochronne, 1976), and Constant Factor (Constans, 1980), included in the series, present characters dealing with personal problems as they confront political and moral corruption.

A full list of films included in the series is available on the website for "Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" (Click on the title to go to the series' page).

Scorsese

Scorcese' personal statement about the series is also available on the site.

When the series came to Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center, from May 4 to July 3, it became quickly apparent that this event was not only meant to showcase the work of Poland's most lauded filmmakers. More than just a revival or manifestation of cultural heritage, noble goals in their own right, the "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" series also crucially highlights the digital restorations of Polish films. Each of the films in the series has been digitally remastered and brilliantly restored on newly subtitled Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs). The span of the series was established by the guideline that only films that are more than 25 years old are subject to digital restoration. As defined by Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC, a DCP is "a collection of digital files used to store and convey Digital cinema (DC) audio, image, and data streams".

The organization of this exquisite film series emphasizes both the restoration process and its results that bear implications for the future of Polish cinema, as well as other cinemas from Eastern Europe. How the restorations of individual films was coordinated, executed and are now being presented suggests new models for the preservation and promotion of national film cannons. The "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" series reveals a great need for collaborations and partnerships between state-funded, cultural institutions, independent foundations, tech companies and motivated individuals.

The restoration of classic Polish features and short films is carried out by the KinoRP Project or with its guidance. The project, proposed and initiated by the Polish, Warsaw-based KPD company in 2008, aims to save the heritage of Polish cinematic art with digitally re-mastered restorations of the highest quality. According to its website, the project was conceived in 2003 after the launch of a television channel dedicated solely to works of Polish cinematography. The poor state of films screened on this channel revealed a lack of quality film prints, inspiring the restoration project. The KinoRP Project is now run under the honorary patronage of Bogdan Zdrojewski, Poland's Minister of Culture and National Heritage. Exhibitions of the project's work are coordinated through the Warsaw-based Propaganda Foundation, an independent organization aimed at cultural development in the fields of contemporary art. The foundation carries on exhibition programs at its gallery space in Warsaw, while also acting as an independent publisher and coordinating collaborative projects with international institutions.

The actual process of digitally restoring films in Poland developed from individual entrepreneurship into corporate infrastructure. The man who introduced the process of digital feature film restoration to Poland was Jędrzej Sabliński. After working as sales director of motion picture products for Eastman Kodak, Sabliński went on to initiate the development and introduction of digital image processing services in Poland. As CEO of the DI Factory, Sabliński has overseen the restorations of more than 30 films. Induced by Sabliński's initiative, digital restoration of film in Poland has lead to the creation of the Digital Film Repository (Cyfrowe Repozytorium Filmowe - CRF). The CRF was founded in 2010 in response to the needs of the Polish film market for digital movie re-mastering as well as management, distribution and archives of digital copies. Thus far, the CRF has participated in the re-mastering of more than 188 films. The CRF website is very informative about repository's the "manage(s) over 2PB (petabytes) of data in over 100 million of files".

In promotional materials for the "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" series, the process of restoration afforded a considerable amount of attention. An entire page near the beginning of the series' catalogue is dedicated to the digital restoration of Polish cinematography. It reads:

DIGITAL RESTORATION OF POLISH CINEMATOGRAPHY

What Has Been Achieved

Eighty classic Polish feature films and nearly 100 short films and cartoons have already been digitally restored within the KinoRP Project or with its guidance. Each film is a separate project which lasts for several months, involving a large number of professionals specializing in image and sound digital restoration — people supervising the technological processes work with the authors themselves (cameramen, directors and sound directors), who oversee each digitally restored movie.

The Process

The first stage of the process is the selection of source materials, films or tapes – finding the best source materials for image and sound. Frequently, such source materials are seriously damaged and incomplete.

Consequently, it is quite often necessary to scan not just the negatives but also to seek other source materials. Once the materials are complete, the images are scanned as separate frames in 2K or 4K resolution and the sound is digitally recorded. Then process of digital restoration begins. This includes stabilizing the image, color correction and removing imperfections and distortions. All the aesthetic decisions are made with the participation of the film's original authors.

Digital sound restoration, an equally advanced and time-consuming process, removes damage resulting from the process of aging of the sound materials and synchronizes dialogue, musical score and sound effects. Because of the improvements in technology, current sound correction can actually make films sound better than they did when they were first recorded.

Once all these processes are completed, a new DCP digital copy of the movie is made and screened for a group of experts, who evaluate and approve the completion of the restoration. New digital versions of the films are archived in a digital film repository. At this stage digital copies of the movie are made specifically for various distribution channels, including movie theaters, TV, DVD and Blu-ray, as well as Video-on-Demand service.

(page 15, from the Milestone Film & Video press release for the series)

This account of the restoration work on Polish films comes close to the criteria Julia Wallmüller proposed in 2007 for the use of digital technology in moving image restoration. Seeking to relate digital remastering of films to earlier forms of art restoration, Wallmüller, an archivist at The German Cinematheque - Museum for Film and Television (Die Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen), called for digital restorers to heed the essential, ethical requirements of classical restoration theory: authenticity, reversibility, and transparency.[1] Describing the steps and considerations involved in the digital restoration process associates a sense of transparency. Authenticity is suggested through the involvement of the original authors cameramen, directors and sound directors in the process. Their contributions to the aesthetic choices made during the restorations ascribe original intentions to the stabilized images, the corrected colors and the films newly freed of imperfections and distortions. At the same time the concept of reversibility, a holdover from the restoration of paintings and sculptures, becomes a tricky proposition when dealing with essentially the production of new objects.

While these digital restorations maintain a relationship with previous ideas and/or memories of these films, clips that demonstrate the restoration process suggest that viewers of the DCPs see something that was unavailable before. Demonstrating the improvement upon the source prints and tapes for these films, clips showing the restoration process present screen wipes that replace muted colors and hazy black-white contrast with finer color values and sharper gradations of grays. This is not a break with history but a new era of film viewing.

Demonstration of the Digital Restoration 

Eroica

Katarzyna Łuka's post and Bartosz Staszczyszyn's article on the series, from the great culture.pl website, both include a videos discussing the digital restorations.

Without completely breaking from history, the digitally remastered Polish films are a new product, whose quality and the experience of which is different from the way these films were previously viewed in theaters, on television or, more recently, on computers. Such implications of digital aesthetics in the production, exhibition, and restoration of films have inspired numerous conferences, articles, and monographs from film scholars over the last two decades. In this regard, the "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" series offers not just insight into how films are digitally remastered but how this process is presented, defined and encountered by the public.

P.S. It seems very fitting here to mention that Polish classical cinema is now available in grandeur small and large. While restored Polish film classics are being projected in theaters across North America, two of Poland’s oldest film studios – TOR and KADR – have made their restored repertoires available on YouTube.

Sources:

1. Wallmüller, Julia. "Criteria for the Use of Digital Technology in Moving Image Restoration", The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, Vol. 7, No. 1 (SPRING 2007), pp. 78-91.

 

 


Zdenko Mandušić
Author: Zdenko MandušićCountry: US
Zdenko Mandušić is pursuing a joint Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His areas of study are Russian/Soviet and Yugoslav cinema, film theory, and Russian and Southeast European Literature. He plans to write a dissertation based around the question of how the desire for innovation has inspired technological developments.

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